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The rules of garage sales and the circle of life.

Over the weekend we had a garage sale. I have learned many lessons from this experience—sage wisdom in the form of sweaty fistfuls of 20s and hundred-dollar bills. The biggest and most important is "people will buy anything."

There was turmoil too, of course. For starters, it was maybe in the low bajillions outside, with a humidity index of ocean. I was sweating so much, just standing in one place, my skin became see-through. Also, frankly, it was freaking me out to see a lot of my stuff go. I miss my iPad already. Are you still out there, buddy? Can I come get you?  We can watch "Doctor Who" together, just like the old days. Sleep well and sweet dreams, my angel.

Early in the day, before we'd even managed to get set up, two cars pulled to the curb. One was an Asian guy, chain smoking his way down my driveway, eyeing some of the choice stuff, already plotting. The other was a caucasian couple, older, shorter (I know, right?). I welcomed them all, because buy my stuff, that's why. 

And then the Asian guy asked how much I wanted for a Yamaha keyboard. 

Before I could answer, the short white guy started yelling at him. "I had my hand on that! You can't just walk up and try to buy something I'm looking at. If you have your hand on something, that gives you first dibs. Those are the rules!" 

I was not aware of the rules, and they seemed more "playground turf" to me than "grownups at a yard sale," but I was ready to agree with the guy. 

The Asian guy fumbled a bit, but recovered nicely with, "I'll buy it for $20." Which was the sticker price I'd placed on it, expecting to negotiate down. 

And that's when all hey-you're-a-jerk broke loose. The white couple, muttering and cursing, in a hick drawl that I can only do justice in person, walked away. "We ain't buyin' nothin' then," he said. I watched him go, wondering if I should feel ashamed that not only had I not known there were rules, I had not enforced those rules when I'd learned of them.

I toyed with the idea of telling Asian Chain Smoker to leave, but then ACS went and did a remarkable thing—he started buying my stuff. 

Garage sales are hit-or-miss experiences, in my book. You are literally trying to make money off of the crap you no longer want in your house. The fact that so many people are willing to pay for this stuff is just amazing. And, of course, I'm often one of those people, on the other side, "shrewdly" negotiating the price of a worn out board game from a dollar to fifty cents. People will buy anything.

ACS bought almost everything. Turns out he sells stuff at a flea market. For a living. I was intrigued.

"I used to be a mechanic, working in oil fields," he said. His English wasn't perfect, it had twinges of accent, but less Asian than I had expected. More of a broken and stilted imitation of an Asian accent, like you'd see in really bad, un-PC movies from the '80s. Which made me suspect he was playing me. But he was so earnest  about it, I just couldn't bring myself to think negatively of him. And he was buying all my stuff. Fistfuls of money can change my opinion of you rather quickly.

He was frank, actually. Telling me openly that he planned to sell the solid wood table he had negotiated down from $35 to $15 for a tidy $50 at the flea market. "That's a pretty good profit," I said, not in the least envious.  

"They'll negotiate me down," he replied, a distracted note of sadness in his voice, as if the burden of dealing with the constant negotiators of the world was a weight he'd heroically taken on, so that other mere mortals would not have to. I nodded, knowingly, as he handed me $20 and waited for his $5 in change. 

All in all, the garage sale went extremely well. We offloaded tons of merchandise, we sweat profusely, we drank chilled bottles of water, and we loaded up the leftovers and hauled them to Goodwill, where they will presumably find a new and better home before inevitably ending up in someone else's garage sale. The circle of life.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at


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